A total of 26 migrant workers at a large apple orchard in Vermont have tested positive for the coronavirus, state officials said Monday, leading to the biggest one-day increase in cases since June 3 in a state that has consistently had one of the nation’s lowest infection rates.
The apple pickers at Champlain Orchards in Shoreham arrived in Vermont on Sept. 14 and were in a 14-day quarantine when the Health Department learned last week that one of them had tested positive, officials said.
The workers who tested positive are in the country legally on visas given to temporary farm workers, officials said. They did not say where the 26 infected workers were from, but state Deputy Agriculture Secretary Alyson Eastman noted that that many foreign apple pickers in Vermont are from Jamaica. They had flown into New York’s Kennedy Airport and took a bus together to Vermont, she said.
The Health Department offered testing to all the workers over the weekend, leading to the latest results, and contact tracing was underway, said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.
The infected workers were living together and have been isolated, officials said.
“At this time, the outbreak is contained to the farm, and I want to emphasize there is no known risk to the public,” Levine said at a news briefing. “It is also safe to eat apples and other products that were grown or produced by the orchards.”
People who have been apple picking in the last several weeks or who visited the farm stand are not at risk, either, he said.
The farm owner is complying with all COVID-19 health recommendations and quickly moved to put measures in place to keep anyone who may have been contagious from coming into contact with other workers, Levine said.
The outbreak prompted Levine to issue a reminder about the nature of the virus: “It spreads quickly and easily, especially among groups of people who live close together,” he said.
The cases linked to the orchard made up a majority of the 33 new confirmed cases the state reported Monday, for a total of 1,817 total cases since the pandemic began. The total of number of deaths from COVID-19 in Vermont has remained at 58 for over two months.
In other developments related to the coronavirus:
SEN. LEAHY TESTED
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy tested negative for COVID-19 on Monday after attending a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting last week where two other members have since tested positive.
Two Republican members of the committee — Sens. Mike Lee, of Utah, and Thom Tillis, of North Carolina — have tested positive.
David Carle, a spokesman for Leahy, a Democrat, said the senator went to the Capitol on Monday morning to get tested. He continues to have no symptoms, Carle said.
The guidance was not to get tested Friday but possibly this week as a precaution, Carle said.
Leahy and other Democrats on the committee are calling on Chairman Lindsey Graham to delay the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett after President Donald Trump and the two committee members tested positive.
“Given the potential exposure of the virus to all members and staff on the Judiciary Committee last week, and given that four senators on the Committee are currently self-quarantining, Senator Leahy firmly believes that it has become impossible to proceed with a hearing to consider Judge Barrett’s nomination, in just seven days from now, in accordance with CDC guidelines,” Carle said in a written statement. “Doing so would needlessly place the health and safety of members, staff, journalists, and the nominee and her family at risk.”
PROPOSAL FOR BACKYARD FIRE PITS
Elected officials in Vermont’s largest city are considering a resolution to allow backyard fire pits in Burlington in what supporters say would be a good way to physically distance and socialize during the pandemic.
The resolution would create a permitting process for fire pits, NECN reported.
“I’m calling them COVID fires,” said city councilor Joan Shannon, a Democrat who represents the city’s south district.
The resolution would allow backyard burning of clean, dry firewood in approved receptacles at least for a trial period of November through April. Shannon and two other city councilors believe it would improve residents’ mental health if they could socialize more during the pandemic.
“We are social creatures. We do need to gather. I hope this will be a benefit for some people and allow them to continue to get together with friends, outside, in a safe way,” Shannon said.
The resolution asks the fire chief to come up with a permitting process and applicants would have to meet certain safety requirements, like having a source of water nearby and making sure fire pits are not too close to structures or fences.
This story has been corrected to show that the surname of the senator from Utah who tested positive is Lee, not Hill.